As the Steelers’ rookie minicamp winds down today, it’s worth getting to know the only player present there at the game’s most important position: Quarterback Roland Rivers, a name already known to fans of western Pennsylvania football.
Rivers is a success story for those growing up on the western half of the state. The minicamp QB played the latter half of his college football at Division II Slippery Rock University in Northwest PA, spending the 2018 and 2019 seasons with The Rock. Slippery Rock is located just 51 miles north of Heinz Field, and during Rivers’ time there, he built them into a recent Division II power.
Originally a backup with SRU, Rivers became the team’s starter prior to the third game of the 2018 season after arriving as a transfer from Valdosta State, another D2 program. Slippery Rock started 1-1, but went 10-2 the rest of the way to earn a seventh seed in the NCAA D2 postseason. In the postseason, they upset second-seed Long Island in the first round and sixth-seeded New Haven in the second. In the quarterfinals against top-seeded Notre Dame (Ohio), Rivers took Slippery Rock within a touchdown in a 21-17 loss.
Rivers played SRU to an undefeated 11-0 record and PSAC Championship as a senior in 2019. As a top seed in the D2 postseason, SRU beat Shepherd in the second round and avenged 2018’s loss by defeating Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. A loss to Minnesota State ended SRU’s season in the semifinals.
Prior to Rivers’ taking over at starter, the last time The Rock had qualified for the D2 postseason was 2015, the same year as its last PSAC Championship. He was the first QB to take The Rock to the Division II semifinals since 1998.
Rivers’ decorated career ended with him winning the Harlon Hill Trophy as Division II’s Player of the Year, the first ever SRU player to win it and the first from SRU’s half of the conference. His other accolades included multiple additions Player of the Year awards, a unanimous selection as a first team All-American, and twice being named a conference first-teamer.
Rivers claimed the program’s records for career passing touchdowns (80), completion percentage (63%) and efficiency (164.1). His 2019 single-season records set were for offense (5,160 yards), passing yards (4,460), passing touchdowns (52), completions (322), completion percentage (66.9 percent), and efficiency (177.6). Rivers also set Division II records that season in total touchdowns (61), points responsible for (370), and games with three-plus passing touchdowns (11).
His final line that season was 322-481 for 4,460 yards and 52 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He also ran 164 times for 700 yards and nine touchdowns. In Rivers’ two-season SRU career, he went 520-822 for 7,181 yards, 80 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions. He ran it 301 times for 1,297 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Roland Rivers getting to suit up for the Steelers is a success story for himself, western PA football, and Slippery Rock football overall. The Rock is a known football program at the D2 level, and has sent six players to the NFL who participated in a game. The most notable is Brayden Fusco, a sixth-round guard drafted in 2011 by the Minnesota Vikings and who played until 2018. Many other players have earned camp invites over the years. Having its record-setting QB sign with the Steelers is a great moment for all involved, even if the journey ends after minicamp ends today.